Deirdre

The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu and the Death of Deirdre

One day, many years later, Deirdre's foster-father was out in front of the fort, skinning a calf It was winter, and a heavy snow had fallen. A raven few down and began to drink the calf's blood,Dierdre 4 startling and red on the white snow. Deirdre was looking out at this with Lebhorcham, and she said: "Any man with those three colours would have my love: hair like the raven, skin with the whiteness of snow, and crimson red in his cheek."

"There is", said her nurse, "a man like the one you describe. He its called Naoise, the son of Uisliu, and he is a great warrior of Ulster. I am sorry to tell you this, because misfortune is sure ly gathering for you, but maybe you will be lucky, and maybe you will live in peace and honour."

"Whatever about that", said Deirdre, "I'll not rest till I lay eyes on him."

One day not long afterwards Deirdre 5Naoise was out on the earthen rampart surrounding Emhain Macha, singing to himself in his sweet tenor voice. All the sons of Uisliu had extraordinarily beautiful voices which made their listeners serene and peaceful and happy. At times he would stop singing, and relax, before practising the martial blocking techniques for which he and his brothers were equally famous. Something told Deirdre that Naoise was out on this rampart, alone. She ran swiftly through the forest, not knowing where she was going, until she broke through the trees and came to the steep green bank. She glimpsed Naoise on top of the rampart and was shocked at his beauty. But she steadied herself, and walked slowly into the opening between the forest and the wall where he could see her. He looked down at the girl: "There's a fine heifer down there in front of me", he said.

"If bulls", she said, "aren't big enough then heifers must be." Hearing this reply, and looking at her, he realized in terror who this was: Deirdre, the fateful girl, reserved for Conchobhor.

"You are going to have the biggest bull of the whole of Ulster, the king himself", said he.

"I'm prepared to choose for myself. And between you and him I'd pick a fine young virile bull like you any day".

"This cannot be", he said. "Have you not heard of Cathbhadh's prophecy, made at your birth?"
"Are you trying to get rid of me?" she asked, standing straight in £ront of him. "Come down and face me."

This Naoise did. Again she asked him if he was trying to get rid of her.

"Exactly so", he replied. "Everyone knows the disaster you are meant to bring, and understands that the king thinks he Deirdre 6can check it with his own power."

With that she leapt at him and caught him by the ears, pulling at them and laughing.

"By these ears you will be a disgrace to all men if you don't take me out of here with you. Have you no courage?"

"Go away from me", he said, trying to push her away, and frightened.

"You have no choice", she said. "You're now compelled by your honour and my will. That is that. "

Naoise, knowing there was no escape, sat down on the ground and began to sing, sorrowfully. She pitied him even as she desired him.

"Leave me", he said, "for a while. I'll go to you and bring you away with me, but first I must tell my brothers, Ardan and Ainnle. "

She went back through the woods, amazed at what she had done. Naoise went into Emhain Macha and told his brothers that he was going to abduct Deirdre at her own command.

"What are you thinking ofl " said Ardan.

"What is the matter with you?" said Ainme. "Nothing but sorrow and bad luck can come of this."

"If you do this we can't stay here in Ulster", said Ardan. "You're condemning all of us to exile."

"I know", said Naoise. "There is nothing I can do."

"Shame and dishonour and unrest will follow us for the rest of our lives", said Ainnle.

"We'll have to go tonight", said Ardan, "before this news breaks. Let us take a hundred and fifty warriors Deirdreand go as soon as we can. "

And that was what they did. They rode into the forest and Deirdre ran out to meet them, and then they were gone, travel ling southwest to Assaroe, and then onwards over the Shannon into the wild places of Munster, turning northwards again towards Howth. All the time they had to keep moving, spend ing only one night at each camping place, because Conchobhor's men followed them.

Meanwhile the king sent emissaries to all the kings of Ireland, telling them what the sons of Uisliu had done to him, and ask ing them to waylay them or kill them. So that even when some local king would offer them protection they were never sure if they could trust him, and all the time they kept on the move.

Eventually, exhausted from travelling and harassed by the fear of real or imagined treachery, they went over to Scotland, where they lived for a while in the Highlands, feeding on the wild deer and other game. After some time they gained the protection of a king there in exchange for which they offered their skills as sol diers and raiders. They lived inside the royal enclosure but they insisted their dwellings be constructed in such a way as to pre vent any one visiting the brothers from seeing Deirdre. Naoise knew that if any other man saw her killing and slaughter would certainly follow.

However, early one morning, a servant looked in through a window where a curtain had been left partly undrawn, and saw her sleeping naked in Naoise's arms. Wild with excitement and lust he ran to the king, and woke him up.

"What do you think you're doing? " roared the Scottish king.

"I've never", panted the servant, "seen till this day a woman worthy of you. But the woman Iying with Naoise is fit to be the queen of the western world. Go now and kill him while he's sleeping and have her immediately, while her dead husband lies beside her."

"No", said the king. "But you can go, every day, in secret, and ask her if she will be my woman."

This the servant did and every day Deirdre refused him. The king now began sending the sons of Uisliu into the most dan gerous situations in battle, hoping that they would be killed, but they were such ferocious and skilled fighters that they survived all his tricks and ploys. Eventually, the king decided to gather a huge force and attack their houses within his enclosure. The servant told Deirdre of the king's plan, as a last attempt to get her to yield, but she would not, and told the three men. That night they fled under cover of darkness and went to Islay off the coast of Scotland.

Read the final part of this tale.

From A Little Book of Irish Myths